The Rookie minicamp is now complete, and the next scheduled OTA begins on May 29th. The Vikings have signed a bunch of their undrafted free agents, and contract negotiations continue for their drafted rookies. At this point, it’s safe to say that anyone new they add to the team between now and training camp, will be something of a surprise. There are going to be plenty of training camp battles for starting positions come late July. While I already highlighted the entire roster as it stands now in this fanpost, I’ve decided to take my stab at an early projection of the 2012 starting lineup, and ultimately who I think will make the final cut of 53 players. Check out my picks after the jump.Offense
QB: Christian Ponder
RB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhardt
FB: Jermone Felton
WR: Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson/Devin Aromashodu
TE: John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph
LT: Matt Kalil
LG: Charlie Johnson
C: John Sullivan
RG: Geoff Schwartz
RT: Phil Loadholt
First off, I realize I’ve got 15 guys listed on offense, instead of only 11 starters. But these are guys that, IMO, will be seeing the field frequently, depending on the formations and playcalls. While I love the upside that Kyle Rudolph has, and I liked the flashes he showed at the end of his rookie season last year, I have to think that the Vikings actually want John Carlson to be their primary starter day 1. He’s got the bigger contract, and more experience. That isn’t to say that I don’t think Rudolph won’t have a good year, but I think Carlson is the #1 TE on the team right now, and we’ll see how it shakes down throughout the season. At the WR position, I have to think that once Simpson is back from his 3-game suspension, that he slides into that #3 role. I think the DA can hold down the fort at the beginning of the season in the meantime. Other rookies and backups that I think make the team include: Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels, Lex Hilliard, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Rhett Ellison, DeMarcus Love, Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger, and Chris DeGeare. That brings my total number on offense to: 25. With this lineup, only one rookie is starting on offense: Matt Kalil.
Picking the starters in the secondary was one of the most difficult parts of this whole projection. I have to think that Smith and Cook nail down starting spots at CB and S, but after that, there are many options. I think Chris Carr could push Winfield to start, and even Josh Robinson has a chance too if they want to move Winfield into that nickel role. Jamarca Sanford could find his way into the starting rotation again at safety as well. I liked the flashes Mistral Raymond showed at the end of last season though, and if he can make progress this off-season, I think he has as good a shot as anyone to earn a starting spot alongside Harrison Smith, but don’t count out rookie Robert Blanton either. Speaking of other options, here are other backups and rookies that I think make the team: Christian Ballard, Fred Evans, Trevor Guyton, Everson Griffin, D’Aundre Reed, Solomon Elimimian, Marvin Mitchell, Larry Dean, Chris Carr, Zack Bowman, Josh Robinson, Asher Allen, Jamarca Sanford, and Robert Blanton. That brings my total number on defense to: 25. With this lineup, only one rookie is starting on defense: Harrison Smith.
With Ryan Longwell’s surprising release yesterday, apparently there will not be an old-fashioned kicking competition. Blair Walsh must have shown enough in the rookie minicamp to warrant the release of Ryan Longwell, and I have to think that bodes well for his chances going forward. It’s unfortunate that the longest tenured kicking trio had to breakup this year, but I think it’s for the best. Walsh’s strong leg should be able to get us a touchback on nearly every kickoff (something Longwell struggled with), and with some further development, he can likely get back to his earlier success in accuracy as well and shouldn’t be too much of a drop-off from “Mr. Automatic” Ryan Longwell. Plus, Walsh will be at least half as expensive, if not even cheaper.
All the Rest
Those are my picks for the Vikings 53. I found the most difficult decisions at WR and CB/S. This is actually a good thing, as it means there are multiple guys that I think are deserving of starting spots at what were previously positions of weakness. I believe we have added a lot of depth at those positions specifically and we are in much better shape this year than last. I’ve said it many times before, but I think also we need improved depth at DT and LB. We’ll likely need to address the safety position again next off-season too. I actually like the pieces we have on offense. If Christian Ponder can improve this year and our FA pickups can stay healthy and on the field, then our only upgrades to make next offseason might be on the right side of the OL, and maybe another WR. And here are 8 other guys that I like that could find their way onto the practice squad: QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, RB Jordan Todman, WR Stephen Burton, WR Bryan Walters, TE Allen Reisner, DT Tydreke Powell, LB Audie Cole, and CB Marcus Sherels.